I recently met up with Andrew Wrenn and Francesca Giusti from Pure Yoga South West for coffee in the back garden of the Lazy Gecko Cafe. I instantly felt at ease and comfortable in their company, they are down to earth, funny and bounce off each other in conversation so easily that the story of their life and work together comes out effortlessly. It felt less like I was interviewing them than more like meeting up with old friends.
They make a striking couple, As I think about how I might describe them there’s an ear worm playing in my head. It’s Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song: “We come from the land of the ice and snow, From the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow. The hammer of the gods. ” Andrew looks very much the Viking warrior, in fact when I first heard him speak I was shocked to realize he was from Northern England, rather than far closer to the Arctic Circle. Francesca with her olive skin and warm brown eyes brings the warmth of a Mediterranean Summer, her Italian heritage is clear in her accent, but so too is the influence of years spent in Cheshire. We joke that she is beginning to add a bit of Somerset to the mix too.
Andrew tells me he first visited Glastonbury in 1989, at the age of 19, hitchhiking here from the Northern Mill town of his birth. He did own a car but “It was such a wreck it wouldn’t have made it out of Macclesfield!”. He remembers it as a time of permanent sunshine and he quickly fell in love with the Rifleman’s Arms, which was always heaving with pot smokers and cider drinkers. He’d stagger back from there each night to his tent on Ashwell Farm campsite at the foot of the Tor. After that, “Passion and love kept drawing me back to Glastonbury”
Andrew had suffered from severe asthma since childhood, suffering frequent and terrible attacks. It was when his doctor told him to double his dose of steroids that he decided to do something about it. He got a book about breathing techniques, later, realizing these were yogic methods, he started practicing the postures too. The attacks ceased, he stopped taking the meds and after a year his asthma nurse told him he no longer needed to go for check ups. Having lived with the condition for as long as he could remember he experienced this as a feeling of loss: “Like a part of me had gone”.
He feels that his interest in spirituality spontaneously arose through the breathing and yoga practice. He didn’t take up yoga as a lifestyle thing, never planned to become a yoga teacher, in fact he admits he’d never stuck at anything in his life before, but having experienced such physical and mental benefits from his own practice he developed a passion for sharing yoga with others.
He’s grateful for the healing yoga has given him, but he’s not totally turned his back on the beer drinking rugby player of his pre-yoga youth “I still abuse and intoxicate myself sometimes!”
Notes in flip-flops & little islands of opportunity
Francesca comes from Tuscany and is well travelled, having lived in London, Egypt, Lanzarote and Ireland. In fact when they first met on a yoga retreat in India, she still had a Cork twang to her accent. Not that Andrew would have known, as it was a silent retreat, so they didn’t get to speak to each other for days. He remembers: “I left little notes in her flip flops and would look lovingly into her eyes. She was a bit ‘off’ at first, I didn’t think she liked me”.
Franscesca was still living in Cork, so they had a long distance relationship before moving in together. Andrew proposed on the Tor, on the spur of the moment. They were looking out towards Meare at the time, where they now own a small house. Ageing parents and growing children keep them to-ing and fro-ing between Somerset and Cheshire for now. “We live in a shed behind my parent’s house up North, we’re not super rich”. Andrew built the shed with his Dad, with no vehicle access to the back garden he had to carry all the materials in on his shoulders.
This semi-itinerant lifestyle has given Andrew a strange fascination with motorway service stations, which he thinks of as “little islands of opportunity”. I can relate to this as I too hitchhiked to Glastonbury the first time, just a year earlier than him, staying on the same campsite and spending my evenings in the Rifleman’s Arms. We were similarly influenced by the music of Woodstock and the 1970’s cult classic the Wicker Man and Woodstock. We talked too about our mutual love of the Somerset Levels, Andrew tells me there is a ‘Madwoman’s Lane’ on the way to Roger Wilkins’ cider barn. Later I google it, curious as to how the name came about and discover the madwoman lived in a tree. They are fans of the Railway Inn too and I recommend they watch the silly comic horror film ‘The Hatching’, much of which is filmed in the pub.
Keeping Yoga Real
Andrew has been teaching yoga for 18 years, Francesca for 15 – she trained as a teacher at the Yoga Arts School in Byron Bay, Australia. They describe their classes as ‘Hatha Flow’ “a bit of generic everything” which embraces Ashtanga, Iyenger, Vinyasa Flow and lots of breathing.
The couple are keen to point out that they are not ‘clean cut’ yoga teachers but rather “We keep it real”. They are very genuine in their desire to give back to the community, hence the regular class at Tor Leisure. while it’s not the most stylish venue they can keep the classes cheap and attract people who might not be inclined to go to a venue with a more ‘spiritual’ focus.
Andrew is distressed by the growth of what he calls the ‘Yoga World’. “Business people are seeing the monetary potential of yoga, opening up studios everywhere, charging £15 for a single class. Yoga shouldn’t be expensive, Yoga is for everyone,” That’s not the only misgiving he has about the current state of Yoga “These days everyone is making things up – cut and paste, but we have a lineage, we follow a tradition”. Once a year the couple travel to India, to the retreat in the jungle where they first met, to work with their teacher Clive Sheridan, a down to earth guy with a fondness for tequila.
They see Glastonbury as a ‘fruit salad’ of spirituality, ‘Tutti Frutti!’, but they are passionate about the more mundane aspects of life in a small Somerset town, Francesca tells me: “We love secondhand shops, we bought a beautiful oak writing desk from a charity shop in Glastonbury, someone in the shop had ‘upcycled’ it by painting it with white gloss, we spent weeks sanding it back to natural wood.”
Saturday Morning Yoga in Glastonbury
Classes to stretch your body, not your bank balance
Andrew and Francesca are starting a new ‘Saturday Morning Yoga’ class on the 5th of October 2019 at Pendragon House (3 Butleigh Rd, Glastonbury BA6 8AS). The class is suitable for all and will be a blend of flowing Yoga postures, Pranayama, relaxation and stillness. It runs every Saturday from 9am to 10am for 5 weeks until the 9th of November and is only £5 donation to attend, bring a yoga mat if you have one and a blanket for the final relaxation.
Other Pure Yoga Classes
For more information see their website https://pureyogacheshire.co.uk/south-west/ or the Pure Yoga South West Facebook page, where you will find details of their weekend classes in both Glastonbury and Macclesfield and occasional yoga retreats. They also hold one-to-one or small group sessions. You can call them on 07909 144414 to find out more.
This post was kindly sponsored by Andrew and Francesca of Pure Yoga South West. Get in touch if you’d like to commission a post promoting your work. The portrait of Andrew and Francesca heading up the page was by Vicki Steward, the other photos are Andrew and Francesca’s own.
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